If You Have No Religion, What Are You Doing?

Peg asked what utiseta was and I tried to answer her in a comment, but it seemed suddenly to be too complicated for a comment.

Utiseta means “sitting out.” It’s a divinatory practice where you go out and sit on the graves of your dead relatives in order to seek advice from them.

As I’ve mentioned to Shaun Groves, I don’t know what happens to us when we die. I hope I’ll go to be with my family, but I suspect I’ll just cease to be. Neither one of those options scares me. Being dead doesn’t scare me. Dying, of course, does.

I wouldn’t be so afraid to die if I knew for certain that we continued on in some form or that we didn’t. I don’t know, though–hence my fascination with ghosts, hence my inability to practice a religion.

I have no faith.

But here’s what I do know. I know for certain that my dead relatives existed. I know they did, because here I am. I might not know their names or much about them other than some vague generalities, but I know that they were real.

I also know, without a doubt, that, if they still exist in some way, that they give a shit about me, about my well-being. I know that, if they can, they care about me and hope along with me for the best for me, even if we might have different ideas about what that means.

I know that because I knew plenty of them who felt that way when they were alive.

I often doubt my family’s sanity; I often marvel at their fucked-up-ness; but I have no doubt that they love me and that, if it can, that love extends beyond death.

I also know that they left a great amount of stuff they thought was important behind–stories about gods hanging in trees, about a god born to a virgin in a stable, about giants and wolves and travelers and lost loves–and even if I can’t have faith that those stories are “true” in the literal sense, I know for certain those stories spoke important truths to the members of my family.

And because they were important to them, the stories are important to me. If those stories have literal truth to them, and not just metaphoric truths, then those beings are important to me.

I don’t quite feel comfortable saying that I think they’re literally real, but I think, in a large sense, that doesn’t matter.

One thing I think my ancestors were right about is that luck can be cultivated. The more you are in right-relation with your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your community, the more fortunate you might be. And not just you, but your whole family, and by extension, your friends, your neighbors, and your community. If you practice well-being, everyone benefits.

And part of well-being and tending to one’s fortune, I think, involves being in right-relation to your folks–the dead ones and the ones you aren’t even sure really exist.

So, I don’t go sit outside. For one, obviously, I don’t have any graves of my people to sit on and I think it’d be rude to go bother folks who have no stake in my well-being, and for the other, hobos. It’s not the kind of backyard one can just go sit out in all night safely. Plus, I don’t want to freak the neighbors. The crazy Christians are just now talking to us.

But I do think it’s important to just shut up and listen–to nothing, to whatever your subconscious puts forth, to maybe something else–and so I take nine consecutive nights every October and remove myself from my mundane shit and wait to see what comes forth.

In order to do that in a space that feels nothing, if not mundane, it helps to go through a series of things that say “now, this is different. My room usually isn’t lit like this. It usually doesn’t smell like this. These things usually aren’t present.”

And, obviously, the house never smells like burning sage–because sage really stinks when it burns. Which is why I find it useful and why I fight with the Butcher about it every year.

Yet Another Reason I Love My Dog

She claims to be wimpier than me. We did our usual walk in the park and, over the course of the year or so that we’ve been doing it, it’s gotten progressively easier. No longer do I have to concentrate on breathing reasonably nor do I have to lay down on my couch when we get done and pray that no one needs anything from me for the next two days.

And now, it’s gotten to the point that, by the time we get almost done with the walk, I feel invigorated, not exhausted.

And so today, we kept going, up towards the golf course, which involved going down a big hill and then turning around and going back up it.

When we got back to the car, she claimed to be so tired that she couldn’t even jump up into the seat; she had to slink onto the floor and lay there until the windows went down and the White Stripes came on.

Then, miraculously, she made a full recovery.

The Return of the Spooky Stories for Halloween

I love October. I have been waiting for October since early August and, finally, here it is. October means three things to me–my favorite holiday (Halloween), nine nights of utiseta (though the Butcher and I are having our yearly fight about the sage. I say it’s no worse than stale bong water and I’ve had my share of that smell, but he disagrees.), and the return of spooky stories here at Tiny Cat Pants.

For those of you who weren’t around last October, here’s what you missed:

The Weird Thing that Happened to Me in Rhode Island, A Ghost Story I Can’t Wait to Tell, But Hasn’t Happened, Yet, A Freaky Arboreal Thing, The Weird House Next Door to Where We Used to Live, and The Weird House Where We Used to Live. And you missed my thoughts on whether ghosts are real.

Anyway, this story isn’t spooky so much as just weird and true.

As astute readers know, my uncle Bri died this past year. Bri was not a blood relative, but he’d been one of my dad’s closest friends, the Other Reverend being the other one. My dad has known them since he was a kid and I’ve known both of them all my life.

I’ve been thinking of the both of them–Bri and the Other Reverend–since dinner on Thursday, when Sarcastro said something off-hand that really threw me completely out of the conversation–he said that, in his experience, service people who really see shit don’t talk about it.

Especially in our younger days, we’d repeatedly ask Uncle Bri and the Other Reverend what they did in Viet Nam. Here, in full, are there unwavering answers.

Uncle Bri: “I saw a full moon setting over the ocean so large you would not believe it.”

The Other Reverend: “I had a dog.”

Anyway, my Uncle Bri died of cancer. But before that, he and his wife had a huge old house in a small town in Michigan. It was freaky weird. The whole upstairs was painted red, for instance, and things always seemed like they weren’t the same distance apart from time to time.

Bri and his wife were renovating the house. When they were doing something historically accurate–like refurbishing the mural in the dining room or reattatching the wrap-around porch–things seemed to go very easy. When they were doing something historically inaccurate, but necessary to bring the house up to code, things went poorly.

Equipment would go missing. Workers would come out of rooms asking why J. had told them to stop what they were doing and she wouldn’t even be home. The light fixture in the front room would swing wildly.

People who stayed in one bedroom would wake to find a woman sitting on the edge of their bed. Lots of typical stuff like that.

Uncle Bri, though, took this all in stride and decided that the easiest thing do was to just get the ghosts to see the importance of renovating the house in order to save it. And so, he’d walk around in the morning, before the workers got there, and explain what they were doing and why they were doing it, figuring that everyone loved the house and wanted to see it preserved.

This helped cut down immensely on the nonsense, and the remaining nonsense seemed much more playful in nature, not angry.

One of the last things Bri said before he died was “You don’t have to stay here. You can come with me. Leave the house to J., she’ll take care of it. Don’t be afraid. I’ll go with you.”

Since his death, J. says there’s been nothing strange in the house.

Indisputable Evidence

I was hoping that it wouldn’t come to this, but I see now that I’m going to have to scientifically* prove that II is a better album that Physical Graffiti–by using math**.

1. Number of songs:

II has 9. (+9)
PG has 15. (+15)

2. Number of songs that blatantly rip off awesome blues songs and artists that I love:

II has “Whole Lotta Love”–originally Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love”
“The Lemon Song”–borrows from Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson
“Moby Dick”–Sleepy John Estes***
“Bring it on home”–Willie Dixon (+4)

PG has “Custard Pie”–Sleepy John Estes
“In My Time of Dying”–Blind Willie Johnson (+2)

3. Songs with lyrics that make Dungeons & Dragons players or Lord of the Rings fans wet:

II has “It’s to a castle I will take you” and “How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air. It was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum and the evil one crept up, and slipped away with her.” So, that’s “castle,” “magic,” “Mordor,” and “Gollum” (-4).

PG has “Converse the planet, when heaven send me, I saw the kings who rule them all” and “Is the new world rising, from the shambles of the old?” and “From the door comes Satan’s daughter” and “There’s an angel on my shoulder. In my hand a sword of gold” and “I am a traveler of both time and space” and “sit with elders of a gentle race” which gives us “conversing with planets,” “heaven sending people places,” “kings,” “new worlds,” “Satan’s daughter,” “angels,” “swords,” “time traveler,” “space traveler,” and “sitting with elders of a gentle race” (which really ought to count for two, but I’ll have mercy on this crappy album) adding up to (-10)

4. Best Led Zeppelin song ever:

II has “Whole Lotta Love” (+1)
PG does not (0)

5. Best opening to an album:

II has the ba-dump-ba-dump-ba-dump etc. (+1)
PG does not (0)

I won’t belabor the point. Obviously, by a score of 11 to 7, II is a better album than Physical Graffiti. You can’t argue with math.

* Well, you know, scientific in the same sense that Intelligent Design is scientific.
**America, if numbers are good enough to prove that Bill Bennett is an idiot, numbers are good enough to prove that I’m right about this.
***The more I think about this, the less comfortable I am with it as a claim, so maybe it’s 10 to 7, but still a substantial lead.